Does Courage Matter if You’re on the Wrong Side?

Is courage boldness, bravery, or a compassionate virtue?

Darren Stehle
5 min readFeb 18, 2022


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“Courage doesn’t care what you are doing, it just helps you do it better. Courage is indifferent. Courage is an extraordinary attribute in human beings. But is it a virtue?”

What follows, is a response I wrote to the general thesis, and the quotation above, in Steven Gambardella’s article on Medium, “The Problem with Courage.” It is worth reading before considering the contrasting and complementary ideas found in the Tao Te Ching that I want to bring to the problem and understanding of the meaning of courage.

Gambardella’s article prompted me to find the verses in the Tao Te Ching that I knew spoke to courage or bravery. The first few lines of Verse 73 speak about the mutually arising challenge of “bravery.” I’m referencing the translation, “Tao Te Ching: Zen Teachings on the Taoist Classic.” Lao-tzu and Takuan Soho. (Translated by Thomas Cleary, 2010).

When you’re brave in daring, you get killed;
when you’re brave in not daring, you live.
These two may benefit and may harm.
Who knows the reasons for what Nature dislikes?

Derek Lin’s translation (“Tao Te Ching: Annotated and Explained,” 2011), as a contrast, uses the word “bold” instead of “brave.” What I find interesting to add to Gambardella’s thesis about courage are the comments from both Lin and Soho.

Lin comments,

“Here we have an interesting distinction between courage and daring. Courage means being resolute and firm. Daring means throwing caution to the wind — full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes. The former is an inner quality borne of conviction; the latter is an external display of braggadocio. These two approaches yield different results. The careful resolve brings benefits, while the reckless charge brings harm. It is as if Heaven dislikes those who are rash and punishes them accordingly.” (p. 146)

Soho comments,

”The word “daring” in itself means being…



Darren Stehle

Thinking Partnership Coach for Queer Change-Makers. I write about: actionable self-mastery; morals & ethics; LGBTQ+ rights & advocacy.